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Sepp Kuss is unshackled from expectations of leadership and free to fly in 2023.
The Colorado climber ace is able to focus on doing his thing this season.
A recent call between Kuss and Jumbo-Visma team brass unburdened the 28-year-old of the eternal question of a future in classification racing.
“It’s not that I want to give up on the idea of being a leader totally, but it’s no longer a pressure on myself,” Kuss told VeloNews.
“It was never something I totally believed in myself either, for better or worse. I think for me it’s most important to be happy and relaxed.”
- Kuss not wearied by WorldTour toil: ‘I still just love the riding’
- Jumbo-Visma on Kuss: ‘We have a super-important role for him as a helper’
Kuss has long been hounded by suggestions at a GC pivot.
Yet despite being one of the best climbers in the peloton with a Tour de France stage-win and Vuelta a España classification top-10 in his palmarès, Kuss has always been cautious over the idea of leadership.
A tricky relationship with the TT bike and the potential to swing between being very “hot” or very “not” made the idea of captaincy as much a curse as a challenge for one of the most laid-back world-beaters in the bunch.
“All through my career where I’ve had the most success, it’s opportunities that come naturally rather than focussing purely on one thing and overcomplicating things,” Kuss told VeloNews during a lengthy sit-down chat at the UAE Tour.
Kuss made playing superdomestique his niche through his five seasons with the Jumbo-Visma grand tour powerhouse.
He helped Primož Roglič to three straight Vuelta a España titles and last year led Jonas Vingegaard to the top of the Tour de France.
In a team already deep with classification leaders, Kuss made himself crucial.
“We tried GC with him in 2021, and we evaluated it. But I think we’ve developed a super-important role for Sepp as a helper. He is super-valued. And I would say that role fits him better,” team director Merijn Zeeman told VeloNews during the off-season.
Kuss is slated to return to the Tour de France to help Vingegaard defend yellow in July. The Vuelta a España will follow in what will be his fourth-straight summer grand tour double.
Any room to race for his own opportunities will come at the Volta a Catalunya in March, and the Tour de Romandie a month after.
“I’d like to do well in Catalunya, it’s like my home roads there,” Kuss said.
“And in general, for sure I want to win races and have my own opportunities. But I also know where it’s feasible and where it’s not. It still gives me a lot of pride and motivation to be able to help the best guys.”
Climbing at the front of the Tour de France: ‘In the end, it’s like a training ride’
Kuss saw an early opportunity to stretch his climber legs this winter.
The Jumbo-Visma star last week climbed at the front of the UAE Tour with Adam Yates and Remco Evenepoel on the steep slopes of Jebel Hafeet before sprinting for fourth on the stage.
Kuss told VeloNews the race through the Emirates was one for finding his legs after a long time away from racing. His exploits on Hafeet showed hints at the world-class climber he typically becomes in the summer.
Often hailed one of the best pure climbers in the WorldTour, Kuss is characteristically modest over the honor.
“I don’t know, I don’t really feel like one of the best. There’s a lot of races where I don’t feel even close to the best,” Kuss told VeloNews.
“I know in the summer races when it’s hot and there are races that suit me, I can be pretty good. But there’s a lot of races in the year that I’m still working toward that level. But I always have the confidence I can get to that level and take my time to get there.”
When Kuss does “get there,” he makes climbing look easy.
Yet towing Vingagaard and Roglič through the mountains of France and Spain isn’t all nose-breathing nonchalance for the high-altitude Durango native.
Like his attitude to GC racing, it’s about being true to what he knows he can do.
“You have to just get in your zone and only do what you’re capable of. So in the end, it’s like a training ride, you stick within your limits,” he said.
“For what I’m doing it’s a different effort to the guys that are attacking in the last kilometer and going even above that. I know my limits and what I need to do for my job in those moments.”